On this sunny Saturday afternoon, traffic slows on the Golden State freeway. Inside one box van, four passengers sitting on the floor hang on to cabinets, speakers, and a plastic basketball hoop as the truck lurches and whines with the traffic. It’s an unlikely commute: Within 30 minutes of Dodger Stadium, Beverly Hills, and Venice Beach, this group is headed for an area of East Los Angeles where California dreaming becomes a nightmare.
This is Metro ICE (Inner City Evangelism), and instead of meeting at church, these four “Sidewalk Sunday School” workers are taking class to Aliso Village, one of the most violent of the Los Angeles housing projects. No singers or evangelistic crusades headline here. But today, like many other days over the past four years, in many other housing projects, the banana-yellow truck rolls past rows of deceptively calm, two-story pink tenements in Aliso Village and slows to a stop in front of a school wall that reads, “F—Up! Astek!”
Jeff Diltz, a ten-year veteran of urban youth work known as “Pastor Jeff,” emerges from the truck in high-tops, a red “God’s Gym” T-shirt, gray baggies, and sunglasses. Looking past the outline of the projects to L.A.’s skyscrapers, he grabs a handful of flyers announcing the group’s presence and takes off toward one side of the project.
Audry Eckhart, a willowy, middle-aged seminary student who leads Aliso’s visitation, pauses in the street to hug the kids who have surrounded her. “The majority of kids who come to Sidewalk Sunday School come because of relationship. Our ‘hanging out’ with them solidifies this,” she says, pointing to the Sunday-school truck. “We’ve even gone to some of their parties.”
“When are we having Sunday school?” the kids keep asking. Eckhart asks ...1
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